Universities are being hollowed out


Sir, – The recent conference held in Trinity College Dublin on academic freedom has shed invaluable light on the shifting identity of universities from liberal centres of learning in the service of the community to failing centres of economic interest in the service of capitalism.

It will come as no surprise to have confirmed by the conference that Irish universities (like many of their European counterparts) have become mere tools for reviving failing economies, not by enhancing opportunities for education, but by diminishing them.

Kathleen Lynch’s keynote lecture presented a stark and lucid analysis of the impact of managerialism on the sector, notably the resultant shift away from a context predicated on offering an education informed by social and moral relevance (not to mention rigorous and original research) to one driven by amoral concerns with market efficiency.

The parlous impact of managerialism on the sector is only too obvious: 52.4 per cent of all staff in Irish universities are not academics yet academics have seen a huge rise in their administrative duties to the detriment of time for research, teaching and contact with their students; the huge salaries commanded by presidents of universities, who see themselves as captains of industry, contrast ignominiously with the relative pittance earned by the rank-and-file lecture staff; and the cynical reduction of the number of tenured staff has resulted in 45 per cent of academics being employed part-time on salaries as low as perhaps €30 an hour, with no job security and no facilities to develop their teaching and research (many do not even have borrowing rights for the university library, a place to hang their coat, or an allowance to cover marking).

The evidence provided that some academics are complicit in this hollowing out of the traditional academic context will come as no surprise to anyone working in the sector.

The complicity is evident in the continuing bias against promoting women academics, the draconian measures taken to silence nuisance academics and students (the costs of disciplinary proceedings have been exorbitant), the cultivation of a divisive culture of stars (notably the decision to headhunt supposed stellar researchers and relegate to a lower division those already employed), the refashioning of the academic’s duties (“administrate or perish!”), the inability or refusal of top layers of administration to engage in a practical dialogue with a view to creating a greater sense of community (as opposed to simply paying lip-service to such a concept), the top-down decision-making in relation to how budgets will be devolved and working conditions shaped, the “yes culture” among the less or non-research active and the positions of authority they are put into over research active staff.

In short, this managerial bias indicates a complete disregard for the proper academic mission which has nothing to do with being a marketable commodity but everything to do with enhancing the community. This conference should act as a turning point in Irish academia. What it has highlighted is the deeply flawed and unethical culture that has resulted from managerialism and the urgent need for heads of universities to take note and for academics to resist this undermining of our proper role in society. – Yours, etc,



Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.